I love Alexanders – smyrnium olusatrum. They are one of my favourite spring foragables. Driving around the countryside here on the Isle of Wight they suddenly pop up, lining the streets of parts of the Island from early March. We use the thin stems for a sautéed snack or side, the thicker stems for candying, make a syrup for drinks and cocktails, eat the florets steamed like you would broccoli, or pickled in vinegar. Later in the year we collect the seeds to use with pepper too. I know people use the roots and leaves too, but we haven’t gone that far yet. Continue reading “Candied Alexander Stems”
Magnolia Flower Pickle
I’m on a bit of a Magnolia Flower binge at the moment – it’s understandable, they’re only buds for a short time and our weather is so changeable right now, you’ve got to ‘gather your
rosebuds magnolias while you may’! Today’s foodie choice is magnolia flower pickle, which means we can enjoy them well into the year.
There are many different types of magnolia trees, and while all magnolias are considered edible, not all of them have been tested, so people can be a bit weary of trying newer species. The most common edible magnolias are Magnolia coco, grandiflora, enudata, mhypoleuca, kobus, liliflora, mexicana, pterocarpa, and oulangeana. Continue reading “Magnolia Flower Pickle”
Brilliant Beetroot Biriyani
Despite being someone who has never been a huge fan of Indian food, I’m a total convert to this biriyani. Just sitting here writing up this recipe, my mouth is watering and I’m wondering where I could pick up more fresh beetroot on my travels today. I’m sure the family won’t mind eating the same thing again either!
Cook time is quite long because the beetroot needs to be roasted first, and then rice has to boil, but the hands’ on time is pretty quick, so you have time to be doing other things in between too. Like prepare the sautéed beet greens to have on the side.
It’s a great ‘everyone tuck in meal’ and it turned out to be one of those where the pots were scraped clean!
This is a brilliant recipe – quite possibly my favourite beetroot or biriyani recipe – but if you need more beetroot recipes, click here!
- 500g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- seeds from 4 cardamom pods
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp garam masala
- 250g basmati rice
- 500ml veg stock
- 100ml plain or Greek yogurt
- small bunch of coriander or parsley
- Mango chutney (to serve) (optional)
- Sautéed beet greens (to serve)
- Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Drizzle oil over the beetroot and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then tip into a roasting dish and cook for 25-30 mins or until tender.
- While the beetroot is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a deep frying pan (or a wok) with a lid.
- Fry the onion over a medium heat until golden.
- Add the ginger and half the garlic, and cook for 1 min.
- Stir through the bay, cardamom seeds, turmeric and garam masala, then cook for 2 mins.
- Stir in the rice and beetroot.
- Pour in the stock and place a fitting lid on the pot
- Boil for 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on to make sure it doesn't dry out or burn to the bottom of the pan.
- Put the remaining garlic in a food processor and whizz, then add the yoghurt till it's well blended. Set aside.
- Remove rice from heat and stir through.
- Season to taste and serve.
Green Fig Preserve
I’m always really excited when I find a fig tree – like something in me forgets that I live in England now, and I’ve yet to pick a ripe fig from a tree – even here in the very South of England.
Fortunately a South African friend of mine invited me round to her house last year, and out of her cupboard she brought a jar of green fig preserve, reminding me how, back home, we used to deal with the figs before the birds could get to them.
This is one of many recipes – in reading up on it, I realise that it’s also something the Turkish do, so who knows how it made it’s way into the South African diet – to me it’s definitely a South African staple, so here’s the recipe, should you too have access to a big fig tree that never bears fruit. You’ll never look back.
Two things: it’s a bit fiddly to get the figs to the point of ready, but well worth the effort. Also, I don’t tend to add the spices in the boil. I add them to jars when they’re ready to be bottled up – this means I might have a fig and cardamom, a fig and cinnamon or a fig and clove, slightly different flavours, which keeps it fun and exciting.
Sometimes the figs we find are really big – too big to fit into gifting or ‘single portion’ (aka, enough for one meal) jars. If that’s the case, halve or quarter the figs before adding them to the sugar syrup. It doesn’t look as pretty in the jar, but in reality, when you pull them out to eat on your crackers you would rarely eat a whole one on a single cracker anyway.
- 1kg unripe figs
- 1kg sugar
- 1.250 ml (also 1.25kg!) water
- Spices (cloves, cinnamon stick or cardamom all work well)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Bring a pot of water to boil - just enough to cover the figs. Add the figs and boil for ten minutes. Empty out and refill the pot, bringing the figs to boil and boiling for another ten minutes. This is important, as it's what makes them lose the bitter/unripe taste.
- Drain and leave to cool.
- Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the figs - there may may be some white liquid that drains out. If there's still a lot of white juice, boil again for ten more minutes, then squeeze again. It seems fiddly, but is well worth it!
- In a clean pot, bring the 1.250ml water to boil and add sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the squeezed figs. They will resume their original shape during this process, unless of course, you've cut them.
- Add the spices of choice* and boil figs in the sugar syrup for about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and boil 5 minutes more.
- Pour into sterilised jars, making sure the syrup covers the figs. *I tend to leave out the spices in the previous step and add different spices into the jars at this point so that I have different spice varieties. Close while hot to create a vacuum seal.
- Keep in a cool dark place, and transfer to the fridge once opened as it's actually best cold, served with goats cheese and parma ham - or just goats cheese if you're veggie.
Thermomix® Christmas Nougat
Nougat is one of my Christmas favourites. I’ll always add it to a gift hamper if I can, and I certainly enjoy having it in the snack box for the festive season. The Thermomix® nougat is different to a shop bought one – it is a bit softer than a commercially made one (because this recipe goes to 100c. If you were using sugar on the stove top you could go as high as 155c and you’d have a firmer nougat.
Wild Garlic Capers or “Antics”
When it’s warm enough to roll down the windows as I drive around the island and I smell the feint hint of garlic in the air, I know it’s wild garlic season and time for wild garlic capers. We’re pretty lucky to have a huge amount of wild garlic on the Island, so we can take as much as we’re going to need for the year and it won’t have made a jot of difference to what’s available.
I think everyone who goes wild garlic picking for the first time picks way more than they need – and end up with wild garlic pesto in the freezer for the next six years! Fortunately a seasoned forager learns quickly how much to responsibly forage!
These are dead easy, and it’s quite hard to get it wrong. The most important tips for foraging wild garlic is to check every leaf. Daffodils, bluebells, lords and ladies and stinking iris all tend to grow in the same places as wild garlic, so if you’re just taking hands full, you could end up pretty sick. Please check every leaf.
For this recipe the best tips are to not use metal implements and to make sure the lid of the jar you use is vinegar-proof (an old pickle jar is ideal). Also, pop some wax paper into the finished liquid to force the floating wild garlic down into the liquid.
Play around with your seasonings. Some recipes call for sugar, I don’t think its necessary. You can use different vinegars, which will, of course, change the flavour slightly. I use white spirit vinegar, pickling vinegar or apple cider vinegar, because I like to use the ‘leftover’ vinegar into a balsamic once all our wild garlic capers are finished.
By the way, there’s a difference between three-cornered leek and wild garlic. (Narrower leaves, for a start!) but three-cornered leeks also have flower buds, so they work the same way!
- Wild Garlic Buds
- Pickling Vinegar to cover
- Pink Peppercorns
- Bay Leaf (optional)
- Sterilise a jar and a vinegar-proof lid to fit your wild garlic buds.
- Pack the buds tightly into the jar. Heat the vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaf gently in a pan (don't use aluminium, the vinegar can react to it.
- Bring to a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes and then remove from the heat.
- Pour the hot, spiced vinegar over the buds to cover them, leaving about a cm space from the top of the jar.
- Leave for 5 mins to allow the vinegar to start to penetrate the buds and for the liquid level to settle. Use a non-metal spoon to stir the buds, removing any air bubbles.
- I always add some waxed paper to the jar to force the buds, which will initially float, under the liquid.
- Close while still warm (so that it seals the jar) and leave for a minimum of two weeks. We've tend to eat the last of the previous year's while the new batch is pickling.
- Recommended with brie or blue cheese and crackers.
Cleaver Juice Recipe
Elderflower Champagne/Sparkling Wine
Foraged Hawthorn Blossom Vodka
Chicken Broth Stellette Soup
I’ve been struggling with a winter cold for weeks now and while I’m normally an ‘it will pass’ kind of sick person, I’m about at the end of my tether with this particular cold, so it’s definitely time to dig out the big guns – in this case a chicken broth stellette soup.
The chicken in this recipe is already cooked, left over from Sunday lunch and it’s worth mentioning that the ratios of the spring onions, mushrooms, chicken and pasta can vary. It won’t hugely affect the end result, and it’s better than leaving a random mushroom alone in the punnet in the fridge!
Mushrooms are great for colds and flues apparently, containing cytokines that play an important role in defending the body against viral infections and tumours and help boost the immune system. And I’ve read conflicting advice about the consumption of mushrooms, but it seems that in order to get the most nutrition from them, they must be cooked otherwise they’re undigestable.
According to Chinese medicine, spring onion is good for expelling a winter cold, especially if consumed within the first two days of the cold.
Parsley has high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and betacarotene that boosts the immune system of the body and protects it from colds, cough, and other infections.
Chicken is rich in a compound called carnosine, and it’s this that studies suggest helps reduce that stuffy, congested feeling in your nose and throat.
I also like using Stellette or Stelline pasta as they are small and don’t require much chewing and small enough to swallow (great when you have a sore throat) and then they are kind of pretty too!
I might try adding ginger and garlic next time too, not only because of the health benefits but because they might add a little extra flavour kick at a time when you can’t taste much!
- 500ml chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 1-2 cups white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 shredded chicken breast
- ½ cup stellette soup pasta
- 125ml dry white wine
- 3-5 stalks fresh parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chicken stock and bay leaf in the Thermomix® and heat Varoma/Speed 2/ 2 minutes/Reverse Speed
- Add the spring onions, the mushrooms and pasta to the pot and cook Varoma/Speed 2/5 minutes/Reverse Speed
- Add dry white wine & parsley and cook for a further 2 minutes/Varoma/Speed 2/Reverse
- Remove the bay leaf, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
- Place the chicken broth and bay leaf in a pot and bring to the boil
- Add the spring onions, the mushrooms and pasta to the pot and boil for 8 minutes
- Add dry white wine & parsley and boil for another 3 minutes
- Remove the bay leaf, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
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